Accessibility links

Breaking News

World: Iraq War, Labor Strife Cast Shadow Over Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes film festival kicks off tomorrow in an atmosphere that promises to be half cinematic spectacle and half political controversy. Films from Serbia, Iran, Russia, and Kazakhstan will all be screened during the 11-day festival in the French resort town. But labor protests and a mounting firestorm over a documentary criticizing the U.S. war on terror may bring a somber note to what is usually one of the most glamorous celebrations of the art of cinema.

Prague, 11 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The war in Iraq and French labor strife are threatening to steal the show at the Cannes film festival, which kicks off tomorrow in the Mediterranean resort city.

Riot police have been deployed to shield what is widely known as the world's glitziest film festival from massive demonstrations expected from part-time French actors angered over planned cuts to their welfare benefits.

The protests threaten to put a damper on the star-studded parties in beach-side Cannes, says Gregg Kilday of "The Hollywood Reporter," an American film industry newspaper:

"There are definitely going to be ongoing protests from the French cultural workers. There seem to be conflicting reports now as to how much they may try to disrupt the festival itself. They certainly want to be a presence here, and they want to make their concerns known. There's also word today that there's going to be a counterprotest from the merchants in Cannes who don't want to see any disruption of the festival," Kilday said.

But then there's politics. As 18 films from around the world jostle for attention in the race for the top award, the coveted Golden Palm (Palme d'Or), the media have focused almost exclusively on a controversial entry that's highly critical of U.S. President George W. Bush's foreign policy.

Last week, the Walt Disney Company refused to handle U.S. distribution for "Fahrenheit 9/11," a scathing look at the war in Iraq and the Bush family's purported ties to Saudi Arabia. Disney said the film, by director Michael Moore, is too politically biased for it to distribute.

Moore accuses Disney of censorship and says the company famous for its theme parks refused to distribute his film because it fears losing tax breaks in Florida, a state governed by Jeb Bush, brother of the U.S. president.

The filmmaker won an Academy Award in 2003 for "Bowling for Columbine," a documentary about violence and the growing gun culture in the United States. But for many Americans, it was his bitterly anti-Bush speech upon accepting his Oscar that made him a household name.

"We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape [saving you from a biological attack] or fiction of orange [nationwide security] alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you," Moore said.

Moore has undoubtedly benefited from the publicity this latest controversy has generated. But Kilday says given the negative French attitudes toward Bush and the war in Iraq, interest in "Fahrenheit 9/11" would be high in Cannes even without the Disney dispute.

"Michael Moore's 'Bowling for Columbine' played Cannes two years ago and was a critical hit. There's a lot of interest in this movie, which deals with President Bush and the U.S. policy post-9/11. So I think even without the controversy that was brewing in the U.S. last week, there would be a lot of interest here in the film. And the fact that there is a controversy around it only increases that interest," Kilday said.

But other films look set to get their share of attention, too. Kilday says that after last year's festival was criticized for being too high-brow, this year's event has sought a more balanced mix of works from Europe and Asia along with mainstream Hollywood movies.

Among Europe's main offerings is "Life Is A Miracle" by Bosnian-born director Emil Kusturica, who won the Golden Palm for "Underground," his 1995 epic about the former Yugoslavia.

Moore accuses Disney of censorship and says the company famous for its theme parks refused to distribute his film because it fears losing tax breaks in Florida, a state governed by Jeb Bush, brother of the U.S. president.
Kusturica, who also directed the comedy "Black Cat, White Cat" about Roma life in the Balkans, stays on familiar ground. "Life Is A Miracle" puts a funny, human face on the war, spinning a tale of an optimistic Serbian businessman whose refuses to see the coming of the war until it's too late. He falls in love with a Muslim woman he is forced to hold hostage, only to give her up in an exchange for a Serbian prisoner who ends up being his son.

Films not in competition include "10 On Ten" by Iranian director Abbas Kiaromstami, a 1996 Golden Palm winner for "Taste of Cherry." There are also works from Kazakhstan, Russia, and Romania.

But of course, Hollywood glamour and glitz will grab the most attention.

In Tom Hanks' latest film, "The Ladykillers," a remake of a 1955 British classic by Ethan and Joel Cohen.

Hanks plays an eccentric professor who assembles a band of thieves to rob a Mississippi riverboat casino. As a base, he rents a room from an unsuspecting, straight-laced, church-going old lady, and introduces his gang as a musical ensemble in need of practice space.

No doubt the cameras will be out for the arrival of Hanks and other Hollywood stars, including Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, later this week when the first viewings start.

But if the party isn't entirely spoiled by labor protests and political controversy, there's one last thing that could do it in: the weather.

Rain is forecast for the next five days. Kilday of "The Hollywood Reporter" says the lack of warmth and sunshine on the French Riviera could be the biggest party-pooper of all: "The weather is a little bit cool. So I think it's going to have to warm up a bit if the ladies want to dress as revealingly as usually happens."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.